For the last four and a half years I have worked at a Schlegel Village Long-Term Care Home as a personal support worker. It was an interesting position for me to hold, considering my intention was to work alongside adults with differing abilities and not alongside the community within retirement/long-term homes. During college, my placement was in a Schlegel Village and right as placement was beginning my Great Aunt Addie passed away. This loss was very difficult for me and the timing of it all felt purposed. Brandon has proposed that September, part time placement began shortly after, and Addie passed that November.
I spent a lot of my childhood with Addie, and we spoke often as I grew up and I began investing my own time to visit and see her. Once you start high school I feel like there's a bit of a shift around responsibilities with family relationships. You're no longer a little kid who goes wherever your parents go, and visits whoever your parents visit... Life gets busy, you get older, and finding time to see family starts to become your own responsibility. Addie and I would speak on the phone for as long as we could until her hearing became so poor we switched to writing letters. I have boxes and boxes filled with letters from her.... I cherish them deeply. I spent so much of my life with her. We had more sleepovers than I can count, spent many summers in Peterborough spending time on the Trent Canal at her cottage, played endless games of crib and skip-bo, used her old-fashion typewriter to write nonsense stories and letters, dumped out every piece of jewelry she collected over her life of travelling around the world and begged to hear the stories all over again, drank too much frozen orange juice (even still, the smell of steamed broccoli brings me right back to her kitchen), and bought a book every year from the local bookstore in Lakefield. I could draw out her home detail by detail. She had bleeding hearts, snap peas, and money trees in her backyard, her car always had a pillow and crocheted blanket in the trunk for long trips, and she absolutely spoiled us rotten. I loved her dearly, and her loss still sits heavy in my chest. This fall will be five years since she passed.
All of this being said, when Addie passed it was difficult working in long-term care. Spending time with her generation was hard. There were similarities in decor, personalities and mannerisms, and at the time that didn't provide me comfort but rather a painful reminder of a beautiful woman I had lost. And then one day, whatever day that was, I felt something in my gut. I can recall it like it was yesterday, sitting in a room during an interview at the same place I had my placement, answering the question "Why do you want to work here?"... my response? "I'm not sure... Clearly the philosophy of care, holistic approach, advanced technology, person-directed care, environment and mindful language are all amazing qualities and fit alongside my beliefs. But to be honest, it feels like this is where I'm supposed to be right now. My end goal has always been to work with adults with disabilities, and that was my intention when going to school. But somewhere along the way, this place has resonated with me and it just feels right for me, right now." I laugh at myself now, looking back at how candid I always seem to be. I mean who says in an interview I'm not too sure why I want to work here, but I can just feel it in my soul that this is where I'm meant to be right now.
Four and a half amazing years later and I have decided to hang up my hat for now. I'm so thankful for the opportunities Schlegel Village has given me. In the short years I was there I actively participated in village/resident life, facilitated and lead an innovation team that shifted the process of new move-ins to be a welcoming and joyful experience for all involved, I partnered with the RIA (Research Institute for Aging) with projects around hiring & retention of PSWs and Intergenerational events, I travelled to other villages, conferences & workshops meeting with our Support Office Team advocating for changes in our village to support and promote well-being. I invested my heart, time and energy into Schlegel. I was, and still am, passionate about advocation, self-directed care, and support Schlegel Villages revolutionary role in changing the culture of aging. This is the first time I really understood how difficult leading the way of change is in an organizational and systemic way. Being an organization to shift the perspective, culture and stigma of aging is no small feat. I am immensely proud to have participated, advocated and encouraged this important shift in our society. I'm incredibly thankful I listened to my gut (almost) five years ago. It was exactly where I needed to be. I fought for the things that were important to me and the friendships I formed will last a lifetime. Knowing now the type of person I believe I am, I couldn't think of a better place for me to work. I loved being there and still speak highly of my experience. I will miss Schlegel, but fully intend (once things begin opening up) to reserve time in my week to volunteer and stay active in the village life.
So why did I leave?? I was asked this far more than I expected I'd be. Ellie you looooooved your job! Why'd you quit??
Yes, I loved my job... and I love Beau more.
I believe it takes a special person to work in LTC. Healthcare in itself requires a whole different breed of people, but LTC provides intimacy unlike other places. You become a family. You are family. And with that comes the weight of family. You can maintain professionalism while still mourning the loss of a neighbour. You can be both separated and connected. It's a grey area I'm sure... and unless you've worked in this field I'm sure it's difficult to understand. Working alongside people, finding and creating connection, and not just doing your job, but doing your job well.....will lead you to a place of vulnerability. And that's where you want to be..... and with all that good, comes the incredible privilege to be a part of someones final journey home. It could be you with someone for their final breath, or you in the room as the family says their final goodbyes. It's you who prepares them in their finest clothes as they leave the village for the last time, it's you who celebrates their milestones and comforts them in their defeat. It's you who knows their family dynamics more thoroughly than the family does itself, and learns the delicate dance of following procedure, understanding legal rights/restrictions and advocating to honour independent choices. The work of a personal support worker is misunderstood in almost all capacities. For me, it was emotionally and physically demanding. And when I thought long and hard, I didn't want to come home to Beau feeling drained emotionally. My number one priority is providing space for Beau. The space for joy, frustrations, making memories and having patiences as we both navigate big feelings. I didn't believe I could do that in the profession I was in. I didn't want to half-ass being a PSW and half-ass being a mom. I've worked with PSWs who aren't in it, in it... and there is a huge difference. I wanted to be proud of my work and not feel exhausted all the time. I would much rather put that emotional energy into my family and curate a job that supported that, instead of investing in a job and using my leftover energy into my family. On top of that, I have always wanted to be in a position to be a stay-at-home mom in all capacities. And although in todays economy it's difficult to be a single-income home, working from home has been an opportunity that gets me one step closer to that, while also contributing financially to our home. I always thought families with a SAHM were just lucky... that one income was enough for their household and it just worked out. I see now how that's not always the case. Sometimes families make sacrifices to be in the position for a parent to stay at home, and they often go unnoticed to the eyes of those casting assumptions. Selling extra vehicles and only owning one for the family, putting extravagant vacations on hold and opting for frugal local stay-cations, proper mindful budgeting and downsizing are just a few of the decisions families make. And although I'll be bringing in money working from home, I have a whole new perspective on all the things families do to make a SAHM(orD) work.
Big decisions always come with a cost, and this case is no different. Even though what we gain far outweighs what we lose, as an extroverted person deciding to leave a profession that embraces community, connection and socialization was bittersweet. Working from home with a little one takes a whole other level of time management and efficiency... a task I'm excited to master. My hope is to schedule in time to invest in my community the way I once did. That is still a passion of mine and am excited for the opportunities to maintain connection to the village life.
So, as I welcome the next chapter of my life, working from home and providing a chance for my creativity to unleash, I want to check in with myself and my need for connection. Just like it takes a special person to work in health care, I know it takes a special person to find the balance with working from home, being a mom and maintaining social connections. I'm so grateful for this opportunity and don't take it lightly. I've said it once, and I'll say it again... change is rarely easy and endings are often sad, but to not try for what you want is a disservice to everyone. Calculated or not, choosing the path that's right for you can be scary and rewarding, nerve-racking and fulfilling, and the best damn thing ever.
All my love,